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June 11, 1999

Bush to Open in Iowa, Amid Texas-Size Hoopla


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    By FRANCIS X. CLINES

    WASHINGTON -- As big and noisy as the annual Pork Expo is for Iowa this weekend, the arrival there of Gov. George W. Bush as a front-running Presidential candidate who has yet to make his first major national speech is looming even larger.

    The Texas Governor will formally touch down on Saturday in Cedar Rapids, brandishing incumbent-like trappings and perhaps dangerously high expectations, with more than 100 reporters in tow to hear his maiden address and signal the official opening of the year 2000 marathon to the nation.

    Rarely has such an untested national candidate arrived in Iowa, the starting point in the grueling Presidential race, in such a theoretically favorable position as Bush. A generation ago, Jimmy Carter arrived there, famously carrying his own garment bag, to make the state a foundry for political underdogs.

    Democratic Party leaders felt obliged to begin attacking Bush today, even before he landed, obviously respecting the long early lead he holds in the Republican field.

    "It's clear plenty of people are looking to pounce," said David Beckwith, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, which is formally in an "exploratory" state. "We realize this is a hazardous situation, indeed. But the ground looks very fertile out there for Bush."

    The nation would have to go back to a war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, to find someone this untested emerging this far ahead of his party's pack without being Vice President or having run for national office before, said Ralph Reed, the Republican campaign strategist.

    "He arrives with the classic tension of the front-runner candidacy: he cannot afford to drift back toward the rest of the pack, but he has to get his hands dirty in grass-roots politics," Reed said.

    In Bush's dense media shadow, three of his Republican challengers will be in Iowa at the same time, vying nearby in hopes of an overflow of attention before the Bush party, moving grandly as a Presidential entourage, flies on to New Hampshire to begin priming the second stage of the nominating competition.

    "We want to thank the Governor for serving as our advance team this weekend," said Ari Fleischer, a spokesman for Elizabeth Dole, who will be working the annual state fairgrounds throng at the Pork Expo in Des Moines while Bush begins sketching his views before the nation. Mrs. Dole will be followed by two other rivals, former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Representative John R. Kasich of Ohio.

    Other Republicans who made sure to visit Iowa this week in advance of the feared Bush tide included former Vice President Dan Quayle; Steve Forbes, the millionaire publisher; Gary Bauer, the religious conservative, and Patrick J. Buchanan, the television commentator. Buchanan demonstrated the power of the Iowa caucuses in 1996 when he finished a strong second to Bob Dole and went on to defeat Dole in the New Hampshire Republican primary before the party rallied round Dole in subsequent contests.

    "The premium for a candidate in Iowa is that he seems to be at ease with the people and enjoy retail campaigning," said Bruce F. Nesmith, chief of political science at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.

    Nesmith said numerous Bush endorsements from Iowa officials had been compounding "the general aura of inevitability" that the Governor bears upon arrival.

    Clearly, the main event for Bush will be the Cedar Rapids stop and his speech at a barbecue in nearby Amana that his staff has been polishing for months as his campaign's initial template. While reaching out to the national mainstream, the Governor will be competing in a state where politics has a powerful constituency of social and religious conservatives. A half-dozen rivals are focusing on that vote, too, but Bush's supporters say he will show he is well prepared to boast such conservative credentials as a law he just signed in Texas requiring parental notification in cases of abortions for teen-agers.

    Governor Bush and his record were lambasted here this morning by the Democratic Party leadership at a breakfast of political journalists. The party's co-chairmen, Roy Romer and Joe Andrews, described Bush as "anointed" but unproven, one of many incumbents who profited from the booming economy. The two Democrats wielded a 13-page critique of Bush's record as Governor, contending that "35 or 40 other governors" can claim his sort of progress. They predicted that, like the Titanic, Bush's maiden voyage could soon "hit the iceberg" of closer public scrutiny.

    In a rejoinder, Beckwith, the Bush campaign spokesman, happily remarked, "The Democrats are panicking very, very early."

    There are essentially two caucus races going on in Iowa, in the view of Dennis J. Goldford, chief of politics and international relations at Drake University in Des Moines.

    "Who will be the establishment conservative candidate, Bush or Dole or Forbes? And who will emerge from the crowd of religious-social conservatives?" Goldford asked. "Right now, Bush is kind of sucking up all the political oxygen."

    "But his difficulty is he doesn't want to be the inevitable candidate who came out of here like Walter Mondale," Professor Goldford added, referring to the damage suffered by Mondale in Iowa when his slippage as the front-runner in the 1984 Democratic race only fed the rival candidacy of Gary Hart.

    Experts are hard pressed to explain the precise reasons why Bush is showing such a large early lead over the rest of the Republican field. Party professionals point to his popularity in a big state and the Republicans' general hunger to regain the White House.

    While the Governor's polling numbers in the absence of campaigning have been strong with the public, a recent CBS News poll found that when questioners distinguished between Bush and his father, former President George Bush, the Governor's rating was lower. The younger Bush was rated 15 points higher when his father was never mentioned in the pattern of questions.

    "He's going to have to start filling in the blanks," said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "I can't think of anybody who has come into the state with such expectations."

    Reed envisioned Bush entering the arena juggling the needs to be gaffe-proof in behavior and visionary enough in message to start justifying the early hyperbole. "And he needs to appear at ease, to be enjoying himself," Reed added to this tricky prescription. "He will."




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